Libraries, Cooperatives, OCLC and TTLLP

Thanks to Koha, TTLLP is partly a library services worker cooperative and just now there’s a massive flame-storm about the largest library services consumer cooperative – OCLC, the Online Computer Library Center – because it just updated the terms for sharing its book data collection. OCLC seems to be treating it as a private asset that it can exploit, not the common resource that many librarians thought it was. I’ve been watching this fire with interest – because, at best, I don’t think it’s helping other cooperatives that sell to libraries – and here is my summary.

OCLC and the Great Library Scandal is a good introduction and there’s a summary of the Talis Podcast about OCLC WorldCat Record Use Policy with Karen Clahoun and Roy Tennant which reveals some of the OCLC thinking.

Just like CC and Open Source? Still “No” is a great illustration of how some librarians think OCLC is reaching the wrong conclusion, which then leads to asking Is OCLC truly cooperative? and What would it look like if OCLC was broken up?

A commenter on Tom Watson: Library data asks: “Why would libraries play this game?” Well, the road to hell is paved with good intentions and this road has taken 40 years. First off, OCLC is essentially a good idea – libraries cooperating to act as a counter-weight to the large library service companies.

However, I believe OCLC predates many recent company rule innovations (stronger common asset locks) and data licensing innovations (Share-Alike, Fiduciary Licensing and the general free and open source software movements), so there’s nothing to stop them trying to privatise the assets (library data) that the libraries have given to OCLC and it was only a matter of time before someone tried.

I’m having a similar discussion with another organisation that has been given data by its members under vague terms and is now apparently about to exploit that data for the organisation’s benefit, to the detriment of some members. TTLLP is a member but has not contributed much data because I was suspicious of the lack of terms.

In time, hopefully, asset locks and more awareness of data licensing will eliminate these problems, but there’s going to be a lot more people getting burnt first.

Finally, a quick shout-out to the Open Library Environment as a possible emerging alternative to OCLC for practical services. Raw Thought: Stealing Your Library: The OCLC Powergrab covers some of its motivation (and includes a link to a petition to OCLC, if you want something to sign), but I share Stefano’s (now there’s someone I’d not read in 7 or so years) analysis of some of the challenges:

“any grass-root approach that will get big enough to take on OCLC on the metadata collection and redistribution service that libraries need will have to incorporate under the pressure of its users (if only for legal liability protection) and will have to find an answer to the same set of problems (policy, governance, financial sustainability) that OCLC has.”

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